From the monthly archives:

October 2009

The wages of populism: political death

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2009

Back in June, I excoriated Gordon Brown for his appointment of Alan Sugar as his “enterprise czar”. Since then, I’ve sometimes wavered in my determination not to vote for NuLab again, particularly when I consider the appalling nature of their replacements (even if Rory Stewart does sound slightly exciting). After all, I sometimes say to myself, Gordon Brown did do pretty well when faced with teh end of the world, and that ought to count for something … But the latest bit of populist meddling, sacking David Nutt for saying that drugs policy should be guided by science, reminds me of why they deserve to be beaten (and establishes why Alan “the minister” Johnson is unfit to succeed Brown), Oh for someone decent to vote for.

Research Confidential

by Eszter Hargittai on October 30, 2009

Research Confidential coverMy edited methods book Research Confidential is out! I had asked for feedback about the title and cover illustration here on CT and accordingly have acknowledged the readers of this blog in the Preface (see snapshot below) including an explicit shout-out to reader Vivian for inspiring the subtitle of the book: Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have.

Today’s Inside Higher Ed has a Q&A with me about some questions related to the book such as why I opted for asking relatively junior scholars for contributions rather than going with more experienced senior researchers. Recently, the Chronicle also featured a Q&A with me about the chapter I co-authored with Chris Karr describing diary-data collection using text-messages.

Many thanks to the contributors of the volume for agreeing to respond to my somewhat unorthodox request to write about the behind-the-scenes dirty details of their research projects. If you’d like to read these, various online stores (e.g., Amazon, B&N, Michigan Press) are selling the volume.


International Law Again

by Henry Farrell on October 29, 2009

Eric Posner has “two”: “responses”: to my earlier post on international law. I’ll be writing two responses to the responses – the first (on Eric’s second rebutting post) beneath the fold [click to continue…]

Bruton for EU Presidency

by Henry Farrell on October 29, 2009

Just after Mary Robinson announced that she was not interested in the EU Presidency, former Irish Taoiseach and outgoing EU ambassador to Washington “John Bruton has put his hat in the ring”: I know him and like him enormously (he’s a very decent right winger), so I won’t speak to the merits of his candidacy on grounds of manifest personal bias. But if I was a betting man (and there were a contract at Intrade), I’d think him well worth a considerable flutter. He fulfils the informal desiderata (Christian Democrat from a small state), but even more importantly seems like a very plausible compromise candidate. The Germans are likely to veto Blair, while the UK is almost certain to want to veto overly enthusiastic federalists like Jean-Claude “‘I am not a dwarf'”: Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt. Bruton is plausibly acceptable to both sides – he is pro-European enough to keep the mainlanders happy, but very well liked in the UK. At the moment, I’m not seeing any other declared candidate who could plausibly get a consensus behind him or her. I’ll try to write more on the candidates as the politicking continues …

The prehistory of “liberal fascism”

by John Q on October 28, 2009

A week or two ago I was doing a bit of work on the Wikipedia article on political correctness, and I came up with what may well be the first introduction of the term (initialised as “p.c.”) to the general public, as represented by the readership of the New York Times, in an article by Richard Bernstein.

At least since the 1970s, the description “politically correct” or, in Australia, “ideologically sound”, had been used within the left to mock those who were excessively concerned with doctrinal and linguistic orthodoxy. The story of how “political correctness” turned from an inside joke to a Marxist-inspired assault on All We Hold Dear is reasonably well known. Bernstein traces its emergence as a pejorative to a conference by the Western Humanities Conference held, appropriately enough, in Berkeley.

For me, at least, the real surprise in this article came right at the end, with a quote from Roger Kimball, now of Pajamas Media, who said “It’s a manifestation of what some are calling liberal fascism”. Apparently, Jonah Goldberg owes him royalties.

Update I haven’t made proper use of the excellent NYTimes search facility until now. This search shows a string of sardonic references to political correctness in the Arts section (and one reference to its use by the Chinese CP) appearing in the years before Bernstein’s piece. After that, there’s an explosion). And “liberal fascism” made its first outing (post-1980 at any rate) in a 1988 story about the Dartmouth Review, spoken by then editor Harmeet Dhillon.

Labor Notes Online

by Harry on October 28, 2009

My friends at Labor Notes tell me that it has gone, rather spectacularly, online. More then ten years of archived issues, the current issue, a blog, and a shop (with hoodies and mugs!).

The Dark Depths of Comics History

by John Holbo on October 28, 2009

You don’t have to go back into the 19th Century to find those dark depths, you know. Marvel did swimsuit issues in the 90’s. Start here. Here is another set.

So, which page is your favorite and why? (Defend your answer.) I’m partial to the Escher-like quality of Thunderstrike’s – what is it? I guess you could describe what we are seeing here as a cross between a deltoid and a mobius strip. Or between a pectoral and a tesseract?


In short: where exactly is either his left shoulder or the left side of his chest? Did his shoulder just sort of give up on becoming an arm and then the arm tried again, launching itself out, a bit below, where the intercostals should be? I could stare for hours. It’s like a cross between a Japanese sand garden and a fancy butcher shop. But perhaps you prefer the Doctor Strange pin-up in which the good doctor is – well, how tall would you say he looks to be?

via War Rocket Ajax

File Under: Middle-Brow

by John Holbo on October 26, 2009

I snagged another good comics history recently. A History of American Graphic Humor, vol. 2: 1865-1938 (1938), by William Murrel. (You could get it through Abebooks; but I bought the last cheap copy. Sorry.) They sure liked to make fun of Oscar Wilde, back in the day. [click to continue…]

Mindhacks For Fingertips Follow-Up – Plus Earhacks

by John Holbo on October 25, 2009

Following up this post, here’s the way to do the scan-and-OCR thing (if you are a mac user). [click to continue…]

FTC announcement

by Henry Farrell on October 25, 2009

Given recent “ambiguous FTC mutterings”:, it is probably no bad thing that I make it clear that I receive lots of free copies of forthcoming books (partly because of CT; partly because I help out the Book Salon people at FireDogLake), and that any reviews I do are likely as not of books that I have gotten for nothing. When I first decided to write this post a few days ago, I was going to talk about all the things that I’d like to get for free but don’t, starting with good f/sf books (nearly everything I get is non-fiction) and in particular _Unseen Academicals_, then moving rapidly through ever more preposterous requests for technology (the new Barnes and Noble e-reader looks quite interesting; I would _happily_ review one of the new Macs with the 27 inch screens), and finishing with the frankly unethical/completely implausible – books that didn’t exist but that I promised to review favorably if only the authors in question would get their arses in gear and produce them. I figured that I’d be prepared to trash my integrity for a complete and definitive edition of _Bloom County_, or indeed for an ARC of _A Dance With Dragons_ (my come-on – “George R.R. Martin Is Not My Bitch”: – but _I’ll be his_ if only he gets it finished). But then I saw (via Laura) that “Volume I”: of the complete _Bloom County_ has just come out _without any inducements whatsoever_ on my part. Can this be taken as a sign from the Fates that the GRRM logjam too is about to break …

Atlas Sucked

by Henry Farrell on October 23, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion of Ayn Rand the last few days, because of the new (and very-interesting sounding) “biography”: Personally, I could never stand her work, not because of the libertarian philosophy (I like me mid-period Heinlein just fine), but the excruciatingly bad writing. If Chris Hayes is right, she finally has a worthy successor. Ladies, gentlemen, I give you Ralph Nader and “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us”:

As a novel it is a dismal affair: gracelessly written, ploddingly plotted, and long. Oh God so long. And as a political tract it advances a conception of politics both grossly condescending and depressingly elitist. Democracy, Nader seems to say, could be ours: if only the oligarchs would get behind it. The basic plot goes like this. Moved by pity to travel to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina to oversee relief efforts, Warren Buffett encounters one desperately poor and grateful recipient of his charity who announces, “Only the super-rich can save us.” This gets Buffett thinking, and he proceeds to convene a top secret meeting in a Maui resort. There he gathers an eclectic group of the super-rich: Paul Newman, George Soros, Bill Gates Sr., Ted Turner, Barry Diller, Peter Lewis (owner of Progressive Insurance), and, somewhat randomly, Yoko Ono, among others, to create a “people’s revolt of the rich.”

This is apparently not a satire. But it does raise the question of whether there are any genuinely good, genuinely political novels out there. Since we’re coming up on the weekend, I’ll throw this out as an open thread (I have a few nominations myself, but don’t want to bias the sample). Have at it.

The Internets Never Forgets

by Henry Farrell on October 23, 2009

I wrote a “review”: a couple of weeks ago of Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger’s “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age” (“Powells”:, Amazon)

Information technology has grown so entwined with our lives that it is easy to overlook the marvels flowering forth from it. … But if Viktor Mayer-Schonberger is right, these technologies may grow to entangle and choke us. They create a kind of external memory, recording our actions and interactions in digital video footage and thousands upon thousands of digital photographs. … Mayer-Schonberger argues that these developments challenge how we organise society and how we understand ourselves. … At its heart, his case against digital memory is humanist. He worries that it will not only change the way we organise society, but it will damage our identities. Identity and memory interact in complicated ways. Our ability to forget may be as important to our social relationships as our ability to remember. To forgive may be to forget; when we forgive someone for serious transgressions we in effect forget how angry we once were at them. … Delete argues that digital memory has the capacity both to trap us in the past and to damage our trust in our own memories.

I probably should have linked to it before, but didn’t, because I wanted to combine the link with a short review of Tyler Cowen’s recent book “Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World” (Powells, Amazon) As I mention in the review, Tyler’s book presents a very interesting contrast to Viktor’s. What Tyler sees as evidence of individual empowerment, Viktor sees as as a serious threat to personal identity. Viktor fears that technologies will undermine our sense of self, and our ability to remake ourselves in order to respond to a changing social environment. Tyler sees new technologies as valuable precisely _because_ they allow us to remake ourselves and our identities, creating our own ‘economies’ (here, I think he is harking back to the Greek origins of the term) or internally ordered environments by picking and choosing “small cultural bits” and assembling them according to our own personal hierarchies.
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A snippet on representative agents

by John Q on October 23, 2009

In response to some comments, I’ve written a little bit about the representative agent assumption in Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Models. I argue that, given the underlying DSGE assumptions, you won’t get very much extra by including heterogeneous agents.

But, I intend to say in the “Where next” section, it seems likely that heterogeneous and boundedly rational individuals, interacting in imperfect and incomplete markets will generate ’emergent’ macro outcomes that are not obvious from the micro foundations. Of course, this is going to be a prospectus for a theory, not the theory itself.

In the meantime, comments on my snippet would be much appreciated.

Update Looking at the responses, I think just about everyone has missed the point, which suggests that maybe I didn’t make it very well.

I’m not saying that heterogeneity doesn’t matter, but that introducing (tractable) heterogeneity into a DSGE model isn’t likely to yield radically different predictions about macroeconomic outcomes. If that’s correct, then if you think DSGE models work well (for some evaluative procedure), you can be relaxed about using representative agents. And if you don’t think DSGE models work well, the representative agent assumption isn’t the problem, or at least it isn’t the only problem.

Since my statement of the situation didn’t help much, I’ll present it as a question instead. Can anyone point me to a DSGE-style model that derives strongly non-classical results from the introduction of heterogeneity? Or, failing that, does anyone have a convincing argument that such results should emerge?

I’m aware of course that, in general, anything can happen with aggregation across heterogeneous agents, so I’m not much interested in arguments for agnosticism starting from that point. End update

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What Exactly Does International Law Mean?

by Henry Farrell on October 22, 2009

“Gideon Rachman”:

I thought the FT leader on the Goldstone report got it about right. The report on Israel’s assault on Gaza is a serious bit of work and it’s fairly desperate to try to discredit it by calling its author a “self-hating Jew”. The bigger problem lies with the UN Human Rights Council … And lying behind that, is a still bigger problem with the very idea of impartial international law. … I asked whether international law really deserved the same status as domestic law? After all, the very basis of justice in a nation-state is equality before the law – anybody who commits a murder should be arrested and prosecuted, no matter how powerful they are. But this basic principle does not apply in the international arena. Almost all the people hauled before the ICC have been African leaders; and the UN special tribunal on the former Yugoslavia (where Goldstone was chief prosecutor) only got to prosecute the likes of Milosevic because Serbia was defeated in a war. … The trouble is that … the system of international law that we currently have is as much about power in the international system, as about human rights or the law.

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I like to think that I know a little bit about contrarianism. So I’m disturbed to see that people who are making roughly infinity more money than me out of the practice aren’t sticking to the unwritten rules of the game.
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